The Hospital of St Cross Bowel Cancer Screening Hub wins prestigious health award

The Cheshire and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service alongside their partners University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust, Public Health England and Cancer Research UK have won a Healthcare Transformation Award in the category of Improving Cancer Outcomes for their pioneering new scheme focusing on bowel cancer screening.

Firefighters regularly visited the homes of vulnerable people over 65 to give advice on fire safety for a number of years. But since February this year the service has partnered with the NHS to provide some health advice as well to try and reduce the number of emergency visits to hospital.

Crews give out advice on how to avoid a trip or fall in the home, who to contact if people want to stop smoking or drinking and, crucially, advice on bowel cancer screening.

As a result fire crews in Cheshire have carried out 15,935 Safe and Well visits from 1 February to 25 June 2017 which resulted in 1098 referrals for a bowel cancer screening kit to be sent out to people aged over 65 in Cheshire. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service commenced their work at the beginning of May and have carried out 574 Safe and Well visits which generated 129 Bowel Cancer referrals.

Steve Smith, Director of the Bowel Cancer Screening Hub in Rugby, which is managed by UHCW NHS Trust, said: “We were delighted that this joint project to improve patient care has won a national award. All men and women aged 60-74 are invited to carry out a test every two years, but this programme has shown that the face-to-face contact and advice that the Cheshire and Merseyside firefighters provide during their home visits really makes a difference. We’re now hoping to be able to work with other Fire and Rescue Services across the Midlands and North West of England to be able to encourage even more people to get screened.”

Julie Kelly, Head of Public Health NHS England North, Cheshire and Merseyside, said: "Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer, by 16%. Screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be effective. Through collaboration with the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and other organisations, this initiative is an excellent example of the local system working together, for the benefit of the populations we serve."

Chair of the Fire Authority for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, Cllr Bob Rudd, said: “I’m delighted that this pioneering scheme has won this award. Getting the emergency services to work more closely together to try and avoid elderly people having to visit hospital or developing late stage bowel cancers is a brilliant use of limited resources.”

Phil Byrne, station manager at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The Fire and Rescue Service has the unique ability to access homes of vulnerable people. We are pleased to be including such a worthwhile intervention as part of our home safety engagement. The feedback from staff conducting Safe and Well visits and the results show the benefits of face to face engagement.

“Our staff have had the opportunity to explain to clients in their home the benefits of the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme and ensuring the correct and appropriate screening kit sent out directly from the Bowel Cancer Screening Hub in Rugby, Warwickshire. In our first month we have completed 574 Safe and Well visits generating 129 requests for screening kits. This partnership work with NHS England and Cancer Research UK will no doubt improve uptake in the screening programme and evidence the value that the Fire and Rescue Service brings to the safety and wellbeing to the communities we serve.“

Experts from Cancer Research UK were responsible for giving the firefighters their training on the screening scheme. Anna Murray, at Cancer Research UK, said: "Although bowel cancer screening has been a National Screening Programme since 2006, the percentage of people who take part remains low compared to breast and cervical screening. It has been a pleasure to work with Cheshire and Mersey Fire and Rescue Services to ensure that FRS personnel receive appropriate training to be able to deliver this innovative intervention to help increase participation in the programme. Any work that aims to increase early diagnosis and prevention of cancer in the population should be commended."